Sometimes, when everyone around you is enjoying themselves, you somehow feel miserable.
Snippets of conversation drift past your fake-attentive ears – “oh this band is great, but have you heard of that band?” – and as you smile back at your friend/colleague/family member, nodding amicably, you wonder what expressions they’d have if you snatched that burrito from their greasy hand and shoved it down their throat, beans and week-old onion bits flying everywhere.
“Shut the fuck up, just stop talking shut the fuck up”, you imagine yourself saying…which is bizarre, because you are not a moody teenager anymore, you are a grown-ass adult, and you are having a silent tantrum when everyone else is having fun.
The answer is obvious – obvious but complicated, so let’s us an obfuscated and barely relevant metaphor to make it easier to understand:
In your head, there is a constant tug-of-war.
On one side, the side with all the buff dudes and sexy ladies, is a craving to be the center of the universe. “Adore me! Shower me with praises! Give me your undivided attention!” – sings the bright-winged angel sitting on your left shoulder, strumming that dainty little harpsichord.
On the other side, the side of bone-thin zombies posing as people, is an all-consuming shame. “I can’t do shit. Don’t look at me I’m ugly. Stop counting on me I have no idea what I’m doing.” – whispers the immolated demon dangling on your right shoulder, charred skin peeling from its crooked face.
How you feel at any moment depends on which side is winning. For some people, one of these sides is naturally stronger than the other; for others, the two sides go at it with such zealous enthusiasm that the ropes swings back and forth three times a minute.
Being on the angel’s side naturally makes you happy. “Oh boy! They’re all paying attention to me, asking how my day was!” “Oh man I am so important, look at my achievements and my pile of money!” – These are universal feel-good moments.
It is easy to be happy when this side is winning.
Thing is, there is a tug-of-war going on, and this euphoria – while it may last for days, weeks, years even – will eventually fade away. Don’t worry, it’ll come back, but in the meantime you are left some pretty insidious thoughts: how trivial your accomplishments are; how lonely you are, surrounded by hollow friends with whom you only discuss the trending shows on Netflix and nothing else; and how stupid you are, to not have realized how stupid you were all this time…
Can you feel happy when this side is winning?
Yes. Yes you can. Just follow these simple steps:
First, recognize that no one is going to win this tug-of-war, and that it is totally normal to find yourself on the currently losing side.
Second, be cool with it. Laugh. Recognize that your misfortunes are absurd, that the little worker ant minding his own business can sometimes be stepped on by an elephant, and that there really is nothing you can do about it.
Misfortune becomes funny when you are cool with it, because it is utterly absurd how detrimental one bad decision could be.
Misery comes to those who would throw a tantrum at being on the losing side, even if it’s just for a day or two. “Why isn’t my life as perfect as that guy’s?! Why don’t people like me even when I try so hard?! Why can’t I just get lucky and win at life?!” – When you throw these kind of tantrums, you become miserable – because this tug-of-war isn’t something you can influence with determination or perseverance. It just happens.
To be happy is to shrug. It is to shrug at who you are, at the shit that befalls you, at the elephant’s foot that comes down once in a while, and to laugh at them.
It is also fine not to be the center of the universe, once in a while.